As painful as it is, theaters in Philadelphia—large and small—need to wake up and stop performances now, and plan not to have performances for a two-month stretch. I have been seeing various statements and emails about sanitizers and careful scrubbing, and then excited invitations to the next or ongoing show. It reminds me of the same vacuous pronouncements of Donald Trump’s plans to fix the “foreign” virus.
Closing shows will be a serious blow to performing arts companies, their staffs, the artists involved who have work so hard and put so much of their dreams into what they are currently doing, and may not get a chance to do again. The pain and dread is real—to their dreams, their bottom line, the real danger of continuing as a company/institution, to their payroll. But continuing on is the ultimate head-in-the-sand move from people who are supposed to be more enlightened than the rest of us.
How many theater people like to hold up a moral candle to the world? And here is a clear moral choice. You need to help stop the spread of a pandemic in your community—and one obvious way to do that is not have large gatherings in enclosed spaces. All these emails about sanitizers and business-as-usual is giving audiences a false sense of security, and giving your staff and performers a false sense of security. Your energies should not be going to public performances right now, but to planning for how to survive as a company and how to take care of your people as best you can in the coming months. If there is a performative element—can you move it online? Can you negotiate with landlords, banks, payroll, etc.? What in fact do you need to survive, what are your resources, and what can you do to strengthen your organization while the lights are dark?
Stop inviting audiences to your shows, it is so ridiculously irresponsible. Your shows are going to close soon enough anyway—the point it to mitigate the spread of the virus, not invite its increase. Invitations to audiences is an invitation to spread the virus.
If you act now, you should appeal to your patrons for some help to help fund you through these times as you take the initiative. The return will likely not be enough to cure all your problems, but at least you are showing some initiative to your community. Right now, it looks like the performing arts is the last group to take the initiative on a health crisis. It is like the stereotype of blindness on the performing arts—happy to tell others what to do and how to be, all the while unable to apply a moral standard on themselves. Yes, closing is a hard thing to do, but it is clearly the right thing to do.